The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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States cry foul over bid to ban cow slaughter

Aug. 11: Three Northeast chief ministers have slammed the Union cabinet’s decision today to ban cow slaughter and warned they would not accept any legislation that clashed with the indigenous cultures of their states.

The political leadership Bengal, which too has a substantial beef-eating population, reacted strongly, calling it a move “designed” to sway Hindu voters.

In the Northeast, Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga said India is a multiethnic state. “If a bill banning cow slaughter is passed, it could set the ball rolling for efforts to ban the slaughter of pigs. But both beef and pork are part of the food habits of the hill people. So, it will not be feasible to implement such measures and we will oppose them, if need be.”

Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio said there was no question of prohibiting cow slaughter or ratifying a central legislation on the subject. “India is a secular country and the cultures of all communities have to be respected. We will have no hesitation in opposing any move by the Centre to impose a ban on cow slaughter,” the chief minister said.

In Nagaland, such a law has to be ratified by the Assembly for it to take effect. According to Article 371 (A) of the Constitution, no act of Parliament is applicable to the state without the Assembly’s ratification.

“It is impossible to change our food habits,” Meghalaya chief minister D.D. Lapang said. “The Northeast as a whole does not have a very high per capita income and the majority of the people cannot afford an expensive alternative to beef. The dietary pattern of our people has evolved over a long time and cannot be eliminated overnight.”

The veteran Congress leader, however, said a decision on the cow slaughter bill would be taken by his party only after consulting its allies. The state unit of the BJP also voiced its opposition. “The proposal does not suit our people and, therefore, I am not in favour of it,” state BJP chief W. Kharshiing said.

According to statistics available with the veterinary and animal husbandry department, over 14 lakh people in Meghalaya eat beef. The state has a population of 23 lakh.Apart from the predominantly Christian Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram, the sizeable non-Hindu population in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh also eat beef.

In Left-ruled Bengal, minister for animal resources development Anisur Rahman said the Centre’s move to make the ban on cow slaughter “binding” on all states would evoke “strong protest” from the people of the state. “This is a political move designed to woo Hindu voters,” he said, adding that the decision was taken keeping in mind the coming elections in five states.

Rahman said he would discuss the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee after he returns from Delhi.

Bhattacharjee and other senior CPM leaders like Jyoti Basu and Biman Bose were not available for comment.According to Rahman, the state government allows slaughter of cows above 14 years of age under the Cattle Slaughter Control Act. “However, this restriction is not applicable for slaughter of buffalo and we regularly export buffalo meat from a processing unit at Mourigram,” he said.

The Bengal Speaker said the Centre could enact a legislation on banning cow slaughter across the country. “But it is not clear to me how it could be binding on all states.”

Cow slaughter is a state subject and for the Centre to enact a law, it is essential that at least two states adopt resolutions authorising it to do so.

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, an ally of the BJP, said the cabinet should have first discussed the issue with the coalition allies. “This is a serious issue…” said party MLA Sougata Roy. “Mamata will react to the proposed legislation after considering its pros and cons,” he added.

Former state Congress chief Somen Mitra said his party would will oppose a ban on cow slaughter if it is made “binding” on all states. “We shall oppose the move since this will hurt the sentiments of a particular section of the people here, no matter whether Digvijay Singh (the Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh) bans cow slaughter or not,” he added.

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